Millennials: Can CIOs win the generation game?

New staff and a new set of customer-focused challenges for CIOs...

Faced with a new wave of people and technology, how are IT leaders preparing the business for the next generation of customers and workers? Mark Samuels reports.

Young people are different. They live like cyborgs, collaborating and connecting online with multiple contacts across various forms of social technology. How they use IT will completely disrupt how your business engages with its employees and customers.

That, at least, is the popular myth. But generalisations are unhelpful, as was wonderfully exposed in a recent first-person account of millennials on Yes, millennials are enthusiastic, technology-literate multitaskers. They are also far from the clichéd media depiction of tech-savvy anarchists set to destroy established corporate hierarchies.

It is a viewpoint that resonates strongly with Keith Collins, CTO at technology specialist SAS and a business leader with 25 years' experience of how IT is used and consumed. "Generation Y has grown up with technology but it's rubbish to suggest that such individuals will only want to be independent and not have strong relationships with the company," he says.

"We're social animals and we want to contribute to a greater good. People want to work for something they value." Business, as such, will always be business - and the next generation of workers will still be rewarded for contributing to a successful whole.

Flexible and remote-working requirements
But that organisation will be a more social beast. Increasing numbers of workers use consumer technology and expect their organisation to accommodate flexible and remote-working requirements. In short, the new generation is changing the rules of how work tasks are completed.

Students in a lecture theatre

The next generation of workers and customers will be always online and always demanding.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The technology-enabled route to such change is already being set. Social networking services will replace email as the primary vehicle for communications for 20 per cent of business users by 2014, according to Gartner. The analyst expects the change will come as a result of greater availability of social media, changing demographics and modified working styles.

Through instant messaging, video, presence and social networking, the next generation of workers and customers will be always online and always demanding. Yet what do such changes mean for the CIO, and how is the IT leader preparing the business for the next generation of customers and workers?

Understanding collaboration
The answer, in the case of some executives, is badly. As the inhouse technology expert, the IT leader should be the natural executive focus point for an understanding of collaboration. But some experts are concerned that many technology chiefs are taking a back seat, struggling to establish a strategy across the internal and external use of social media.

BBC CIO Tiffany Hall is concerned that many of her IT peers might be missing the bigger picture: "Some CIOs haven't clocked that the next generation of work will be different," she says. "There's a lot of talk now about how technology is...